Learn to Code in 2013: A List of Toronto’s In-Person Learning Opportunities


(Originally posted on the HackerYou blog on January 4, 2012)

If you’ve decided that 2013 is the year you’re finally going to learn to code, you’re in luck! There have never been more resources available to people interested in picking up 21st century digital skills, whether you’re interested in front-end development, back-end development, design, or even something more specific.

But you’ve tried online tutorials. You’ve been to Meetup groups. You’ve watched video lessons. And for some reason, it’s just not working for you. Well, the good news is that – these days – there are lots of options for people looking to learn how to code via an in-person learning experience. And you won’t even have to move to San Francisco.

Here’s a list of places to learn to code in Toronto:

Should you have been included in this list? Email us at info [at] hackeryou.com with information about your organization and we’ll add you to the list.

Part-time introductory courses on HTML & CSS, Responsive Design, Ruby on Rails and more. Our next course begins on January 21st. Learn more here.
Cost: Varies (typically $900 – $2000 per course)
http://hackeryou.com | @thisishackeryou | fb.com/thisishackeryou

Bitmaker Labs
9-week full-time courses on Ruby on Rails. Deadline to apply for their Spring 2013 cohort is January 14th.
Cost: $7000
http://bitmakerlabs.com | @bitmakerlabs | fb.com/bitmakerlabs

Ladies Learning Code
One-day workshops designed for beginners who are looking for a social and collaborative learning experience.
Cost: $50 per one-day workshop (includes a catered lunch!)
http://ladieslearningcode.com | @llcodedotcom | fb.com/ladieslearningcode

Pay-what-you-can and get hands on with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, WordPress and more at these 9-week courses.
Cost: Pay What You Can
http://theymc.com | @theYMC | fb.com/theYMC

Team Coding
Free sessions to help beginners get in groups to practice coding.
Cost: Free
http://meetup.com/teamcoding | @teamcoding

Learn Toronto
Not a course, but a listing of tech and startup related groups and events in Toronto. Perfect if you’re looking to learn on an ad hoc basis.
Cost: Most groups and Meetups are free
http://learntoronto.org | @LearnToronto

Have you decided to make 2013 the year you learn how to code? How are you going to do it?

Things That Throw You For a Loop


A few months ago, a weird dark brown spot showed up on my forehead. It was probably about half a centimetre wide and round. After being urged by people who care about me to go and have it checked out, a doctor did a biopsy and the spot was removed for testing. A couple weeks later, the doctor called me back to his office and let me know that it was malignant melanoma.

It’s not a huge deal. Lots of people have melanoma, and there’s no expected impact on life expectancy or anything like that. I’m young for it, though – I’m just 25. And I’ve always been really careful with sun exposure. I’ve never been in a tanning bed, always use at least SPF 30 and I am not a significant consumer of holidays in the sun. I guess that doesn’t matter.

This morning, at 8 am, I had to have another minor surgery. In order to ensure that the melanoma was entirely removed, they had to take from my forehead an additional 5 mm on each side of the original spot. There will be a scar about an inch long and it will take a year to heal. Apparently, it will look its worst in about two months. Luckily, it’s not too far away from my hairline, so most of you will probably never see it. I’ll be rocking side-swept bangs for the rest of my life.

I’m sharing this because, first of all, it’s been sort of scary and it makes me feel better to talk about it. But more importantly, I’m sharing because I think there’s a good lesson here. No matter how much great stuff you have in your life, anything can happen because we’re humans, not robots. What happened to me isn’t serious, but it could have been. It could be anything, any time. So it’s important to be grateful every day for your life and the people in it. It’s also important to try and make the most out of every day that we have. If you’re not taking risks and trying to move the needle and aspiring for major impact (whatever “imapct” means for you), maybe you should start. I have been, for a while now, but I think it’s time to turn up the volume. Want to join me?

Until next time,


Mind = Blown


I met 10-year-old Keegan back in February, at the first event for kids that I organized as part of my current gig with the Mozilla Foundation. His aunt is Vicki Saunders, someone I’ve known (and admired) for many months now. I’ve seen Keegan a few times since then – at the Hive Pop-Up in June, and then again today, at the Intro to Webmaking workshop that I’m running.

He just showed me his new website: nerdswithglasses.com, which is full of “Guides for Geeks” aka. tutorials for people who want to learn to code (or maybe do other things, too). So far, he has a Python tutorial + video, a clock background tutorial + video, and a lesson on creating an HTML web page. Currently, he’s writing a post called “Spreading the HTML Gospel” about today’s workshop.

Seeing this kind of thing makes everything that I do totally worth it. Keegan – you’re a rockstar. Keep it up!

UPDATE: If you’d like to get in touch with Keegan or compliment him on his excellent website, you can contact him at info [at] nerdswithglasses.com.

Now I’m Really an Entrepreneur


I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for a long time. Not when I was in university (back then, I wanted to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company), but sometime between graduating and landing my first real job, I realized that I just wasn’t going to be able to make a career out of working for the man. Even after that realization, it’s taken me a long time to get here. As of today, though, I’m really an entrepreneur. And I’m effing excited about it.

(Want to skip to my new venture? It’s called HackerYou. Click here to visit the site, click here to read our press release, and click here to follow us on Twitter.)

When I moved to Toronto in May of 2010 (you know, after living in China for 15 months and then dropping out of grad school), I wanted to join a startup. But, of course, I didn’t know a single person in Toronto’s tech or startup communities, and as a recent grad, I didn’t exactly have people clamouring to hire me…to do anything. I was lucky to land a job through Laura Plant (yes, the one from Ladies Learning Code) and I worked for a year at a big company. And that was enough of that.

Just before I left BigCorp Inc. to join a startup as employee #2, I was in LA for work. And if you’ve heard of Ladies Learning Code, you know the story. I stumbled upon an event via Women 2.0. Run by the PyLadies, it was a workshop designed for women who were beginners to Python but ready to learn, which described me perfectly. It was their first workshop ever, and it was great, and I returned to Toronto and tweeted about how we should have a similar group here. Almost immediately, I started receiving emails from people who were interested in the idea, and when I’d received about a dozen, I planned this event. 85 people registered, there was a great turnout, and as a group we decided to run our first workshop exactly a month later. About 20 people were involved in pulling that first event off – it sold out in a day, and was definitely a success! I was surprised, and really excited.

We started planning workshops every month, and they started selling out faster and faster – like, sell-out-in-five-minutes fast. By the end of 2011, my team (by now, four of us) made the decision to start offering two workshops a month. Now, almost 2000 women (and men) have participated in a Ladies Learning Code workshop. Over 400 developers and designers have signed up to volunteer their time. We run a March Break and summer camp for 9 to 13 year old girls. And just yesterday, we announced that we’re going to be offering a couple workshops in Vancouver this summer.

But although I definitely accept the compliments offered to myself and my team for the job we’ve done in starting and growing Ladies Learning Code, and although I truly appreciate being considered an entrepreneur, I haven’t felt like one. Not until today.

Maybe it’s because Ladies Learning Code is a not-for-profit. Maybe it’s because I got lucky, stumbled onto the idea, and just held on for dear life. Maybe it’s because the point of Ladies Learning Code was never to find a repeatable and scaleable business model (I mean, the thing has a business model, but it sure as hell doesn’t scale. Not easily, anyway.) Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things. It might even just be in my head. But I just haven’t felt like an entrepreneur yet.

Either way, it all changes today. Today is the day that I’m making a specific decision to bring something into this world that wouldn’t exist otherwise. I’m putting my money where my mouth is by making an investment in turning this idea into reality. In line with Steve Blank’s definition of a startup, my purpose now is to find a repeatable and scalable business model. And this time, I want to do something that will have a positive impact and make a profit, because I believe it’s possible to do both.

Want to see what my team and I built? Check it out: http://hackeryou.com. And be sure to follow us on Twitter – we’re @thisishackeryou.

Mesh and Me: A Lot Can Happen in Two Years


In May of 2010, I moved to Toronto after 15 months in China. One of the first things I did (to start building a network) was sign up to volunteer at Mesh, and while I was there, I told anyone who would listen that I was looking for a job. Dan Martell, Andrew Lane and Matt Roberts might remember that.

In May of 2011, I’d been in a corporate marketing role for almost a year. But I wanted to join a startup. So, I volunteered at Mesh, and while I was there, I told anyone who would listen that I was looking for a job with a startup. Mark Graham, Tim Willison and Ashleigh Grange might remember that.

This year, I’m not volunteering. In fact, I’ve been invited to speak at Mesh (on a panel – details below).

Conclusion? A lot can happen in two years.

You can still register for Mesh! Click here and get a 15% discount by using discount code: “thisweek”

Tales from the Trenches: Stories from Startups
Thursday, May 24th | 1:05 pm – 2:05 pm | Room 203AB

So, what’s involved in running a startup? How do you operate the business? What’s involved in developing products and services? What are some of the key considerations when hiring employees? What are the most important things when a startup looks to raise money or gets an acquisition offer. We’ve put together a roundtable featuring startup entrepreneurs (and a VC) who will provide real-world insight into the startup world. Moderated by Mark Evans and Stuart MacDonald, the roundtable is designed to be freewheeling, interactive and engaging forum that aims to have the audience involved and contributing as well. Guest roundtable members include: Aliza PulverAndy YangEvgeny TchebotarevDups Wijayawardhana and Heather Payne.

A Note To Young Treps: Put Down The Ramen


I wrote a piece for YoungEntrepreneur.com, and it was published earlier this week. Check it out:

Whether it’s long hours, late nights or surviving off just the most basic of staples — we’ve all heard the stories of startup founders working toward Ramen profitability. Although these tales are popular, and sometimes even glamorized, are they a necessity for anyone looking to start up?

I don’t think so. After all, I’m an entrepreneur. My startup is less than a year old. Yet, I live in a good-sized apartment in a nice area of Toronto. I have an iPhone, a couple of computers and an iPad. I have patio furniture and I host dinner parties. I rarely buy groceries, choosing instead to eat out or on the go. Recently, I made a five-digit investment in fellow entrepreneur Katherine Hague’s startup, ShopLocket. And despite the fact that university cost me $100,000, I’ve been financially independent (and debt-free) since I moved out at 18.

Is it luck? Partially. But most of it comes down to being financially savvy. Here are three tips to help you pursue entrepreneurship without having to resort to Ramen:

Read the rest over at YoungEntrepreneur.com…

What is a Hive Pop-Up?


For the project I’m working on for Mozilla, we’re exploring whether or not there’s an opportunity for Toronto to create its own Hive Learning Network. So far, it seems like we have the right ingredients: kids and parents who are interested in participating in the sorts of events that a Hive Learning Network would support, and organizations who see the power that comes from collaborating and sharing resources. The model for Hive Toronto might be similar to the network that exists in New York City, or we might put our own spin on it. But either way, I’m excited about the potential.

What is a Hive Learning Network?

Hive Learning Networks are coalitions of youth-serving organizations dedicated to transforming the learning landscape, creating new opportunities for youth to explore their interests, develop new skills and follow their passions through the educational application of digital media and technology.  They collaborate on projects that leverage digital tools around youth interests from science, art and social justice to filmmaking, hip-hop and skateboarding.

Core beliefs:

  • School is not the sole provider in a community’s educational system
  • Youth need to be both sophisticated consumers and active producers of digital media
  • Learning should be driven by youth’s interests
  • Digital is the glue and amplifier for connected learning experiences
  • Out-of-school time spaces are fertile grounds for learning innovation
  • Organizations must collaborate to thrive

Hive NYC was founded in 2008 and currently has 38 members ranging in size and focus, from The American Museum of Natural History and The Museum of Modern Art to Girls Write Now and Tribeca Film Institute.  Through the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust, network members have access to grants every six months to support their innovative and collaborative ideas and projects.

So, What’s a Hive Pop-up?

A Hive Pop-Up is a style or format for an event organized by members of a Hive Learning Network, or by groups who are exploring the possibility of forming a Hive Learning Network. (Currently, there are groups exploring this in Toronto, San Francisco and London, UK, among others.) The main feature of the Hive Pop-Up is that it is made up of different stations (usually between 4 and 10). Each station is run by a different organization (or a couple of organizations collaboratively), and at each station kids have the opportunity to work on a different project. At the Hive Pop-Up that I organized in February, we didn’t have a set schedule or “rotation plan” – kids could wander around and join in the fun at any station that caught their attention. Lots kids tried all the stations, many tried a few, and some kids stayed at one station the whole time.

Although there are lots of ways to run Hive Pop-Up events, here’s my recipe:

Venue: Select a space that isn’t a traditional classroom. I love holding learning events in the Mozilla Community Space and at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, but if you don’t have spaces like these in your city, a community centre or library will work.

Time: 1 pm – 4:30 pm (Offer attendees a snack around 3:30 pm, and do demos at 4 pm)

Number of participants: Depends on the size of the space. If you’re not charging for the event (most Hive Pop-Up events are free), you should be prepared for some drop off. At the Hive Pop-Up event that I ran at Mozilla in February, 55 kids signed up, and about 50 kids came. (There was less drop off than I expected.) Since we had six stations set up, this meant that there were 5-10 kids at each station at all times, which worked well. Also, if you’re expecting parents to accompany their kids, you may want to consider setting up a “Parent Zone” – a place for parents to go and socialize, which can help kids feel more comfortable as they explore the different stations. We offered coffee, tea and snacks in the “Parent Zone” at the February Hive Pop-Up, and also had Mark Surman run a sort of focus group with the parents to talk about digital literacy and web making skills.

Computers: All of the learning events I’ve run so far (except for Girls Learning Code) have been BYOL – bring your own laptop. This isn’t a great answer (there are a lot of kids who don’t have access to laptops), but it’s the best most of us can do for now. It’s a good idea to try and have a few extra laptops on hand for kids who aren’t able to bring one. You can also try having kids work in pairs.

Signs: Make signs so that it’s clear to the kids what each station is about.

Volunteers: Have tons! You need to have pretty close to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of kids to volunteers when teaching new digital skills (at least, that’s what I’ve found to work best), and you’ll need some extra people to help with registration, set up, take down, etc. I usually make “Volunteer” one of the ticket types on the event’s registration page, and found that it’s worked really well.

Handouts: It’s a good idea to have handouts at each station to help kids get started with their projects more quickly, and help them if they get stuck. They should almost be step-by-step recipes, including some additional challenges for kids who complete the basic project quickly. Handouts can make the job of the volunteer instructors at each station a little easier.

Connect the dots: Look for ways to have the different projects play into each other. At a Hive Pop-Up in Tokyo, they had kids create games in Scratch and then remix a popular gaming website to include the game they’d created using Hackasaurus. Collaborations at Hive Pop-Ups a great way to start getting Hive Learning Network members to start thinking about ways their organization might be able to collaborate. You never know where ideas for interesting, collaborative projects might come from!

Use it as a chance to get the word out about what Hive members are doing: One of the cool things about Hive Pop-Ups is that they are really effective for showcasing the work of a whole bunch of like-minded organizations. It can be a great opportunity for Hive members (or potential members) to get the word out about what they’re doing to a new or expanded audience. Encourage each station to have brochures, business cards, etc. about their organization and what they do. A Hive Pop-Up can be really worthwhile from a marketing perspective!

I’ll other things as I think of them, but that’s a good start! I can’t wait to put together another Hive Pop-Up event in Toronto!

Defining the role of a teacher


(From Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams“)

It used to be simple: the teacher was the cop, the lecturer, the source of answers, and the gatekeeper to resources. All rolled into one.

A teacher might be the person who is capable of delivering information. A teacher can be your best source of finding out how to do something or why something works.

A teacher can also serve to create a social contract or environment where people will change their posture, do their best work, and stretch in new directions. We’ve all been in environments where competition, social status, or the direct connection with another human being has changed us.

The Internet is making the role of content gatekeeper unimportant. Redundant. Even wasteful.

If there’s information that can be written down, widespread digital access now means that just about anyone can look it up. We don’t need a human being standing next to us to lecture us on how to find the square root of a number or sharpen an axe.

(Worth stopping for a second and reconsidering the revolutionary nature of that last sentence.)

What we do need is someone to persuade us that we want to learn those things, and someone to push us or encourage us or create a space where we want to learn to do them better.

If all the teacher is going to do is read her pre-written notes from a PowerPoint slide to a lecture hall of thirty or three hundred, perhaps she should stay home. Not only is this a horrible disrespect to the student, it’s a complete waste of the heart and soul of the talented teacher. Teaching is no longer about delivering facts that are unavailable in any other format.

[Note from Heather: This post from Seth Godin makes me think about what we’re doing at Ladies Learning Code. Somehow, we’ve made almost 1000 women (and men) into passionate learners – for a day, at least – about a topic they otherwise might not explore. Sure, we use slides. But there’s something about the experience that puts Ladies Learning Code workshops in a new category. This isn’t school.

I find it pretty interesting to note that most of our Lead Instructors and Mentors are in a teaching role for the first time ever when they join us at a Ladies Learning Code workshop. And no one on the Ladies Learning Code team has a background in education. The funny thing about that is that it might be why what we’re doing works.]

Non-technical? How to Join a Startup in 7 Steps


[This post was originally published on TechVibes.com]

So, you want to join a startup?

I know how you feel. After a year in a corporate marketing role at an established international firm, I was really happy – but I also felt like something was missing. I just knew (actually, I’d known it for a while) that startup world is where I belong. In May, I decided to begin looking for my next opportunity, thinking that it would take me at least four months, or even six, to find the type of startup gig I was looking for. To my utter astonishment, my job search ended in less than three weeks when I received a great offer from Pinpoint Social. (I also had a few other opportunities in the pipeline, just in case.) I’ve thought a lot about my job search experience since then, and I think I’ve figured out the seven steps that should be followed for anyone who wants to go from corporate to startup life in less than three weeks. Here they are:

Continue reading

Date an Entrepreneur – Female Edition


(Based on “Date an Entrepreneur” by Bridget Porowski and “Date a Girl Who Reads” by Rosemarie Urquico)

Date an entrepreneur. Date a girl who spends her money on iPads and web apps instead of trips to the mall. A girl who doesn’t mind being told that her idea isn’t going to catch on. One who’s kept a running list of things she’s wanted to change since she was a kid.

Find an entrepreneur. You’ll know that she is one because she will always have her smart phone out. She’s the one skimming TechCrunch and Women 2.0, the one who can’t stop talking when she finds the idea she wants. Yes, she has a new idea to tell you about every week and yes, most of them will end up in her desktop Recycle Bin. But that’s what makes her great. You see a strange girl scribbling madly on an empty page in her notebook? That’s the entrepreneur. She can never resist a new opportunity, especially when it’s risky.

She’s the girl wearing jeans and a casual but stylish blazer while meeting with investors. She’s on her laptop at the coffee shop down the street. Her coffee is cold because she’s kind of mentally occupied. Lost in a world where anything’s possible and each no gets you one step closer to a yes. Sit down and chat. (She’ll give you a look because people are always sitting down to chat with her.) Ask her about her idea, product or service. Let her talk about product-market fit, angel investors, and IPO’s. If you dare to interrupt her she’ll give you a look, as most girls who create do not like to be interrupted. Try giving her a problem to fix, but only if you really want it fixed and fixed right. Ask her for her help or advice.

She’ll tastefully give it, while somehow making it seem like it was your idea all along. Funny how she manages that, isn’t it?

Let her know what you really think of [insert newsworthy startup story here]. Ask her for her honest opinion. Understand that if she says she understands calculus and teaches Python  to #ladieslearningcode she’s telling the truth – women don’t tend to exaggerate those things too much. Her economic predictions aren’t spot-on – but these days, whose are? It doesn’t matter, though, because she’s obsessed with generating revenue & profit and does a great job of saving her piece of it. She knows that she has to take care of herself. She’ll rub off on you, and before you know it you too will carefully compare grocery store prices by the ounce.

It’s easy to date an entrepreneur. Give her amazon gift cards – and jewelry – for Christmas and her birthday. Give her the gift of ideas while also making her feel special about being exactly who she is. Understand that, on your anniversary, she might be in New York doing a demo or in San Francisco talking to potential investors – and forgive her for it. Her team might need her to finish their new build on the 14th, so don’t be shocked if she asks to celebrate Valentine’s Day a day later so you can be together (and take advantage of half-price chocolate). Let her know that you understand that ideas are love. Understand that she knows the difference between the present and the future, but she’s going to try to make life a little more like her vision for the future. Don’t try to stop her – there’s no point.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. Like all self-assured people, she’ll understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: incentives, motivation, meaning, implication…it will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because an entrepreneur knows how to create opportunity from failure. Because an entrepreneur understands that nothing truly comes to an end. That you can always create something from nothing. That you can recreate again and again and still be the heroine. That life is meant to have a challenge or two. Besides, it’s a good reminder that she has to focus on being the best she can be – for herself first.

Why be frightened of everything that you lack? Entrepreneurs understand that people, like companies, grow. She will help you realize your potential. She will study you more than anyone. She’ll figure you out. That’s when you’re really in trouble.

You’ll want to propose to her long before she’s ready. She’s got a world to change, she’s always saying, and she’s in no rush. You’ll try to very casually slip it in dozens of times, always somehow losing your nerve at the last minute. Eventually, it will happen – via Skype. When you least expect it to. And the seconds before she says yes will feel like hours. But if you’re lucky, she’ll say yes.

If you find a girl who creates, keep her near. When you find her up at 2 AM wrestling over her latest idea, make her a cup of tea and don’t be afraid to sit in silence. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the projections in her head and her Google Spreadsheets are reality, because someday, they will be.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart doesn’t burst. Together you will create the vision for your lives. You might even have kids together. If you do, they’ll have strange ideas and even stranger imaginations. They’ll have the best lemonade stand in the city. She will introduce your children to Lego and math and consideration and beauty and generosity and building robots and cooking and JavaScript, maybe in the same day. You will love her more than anything and your relationship will always feel new and fresh, because ideas never get old. Because she’ll mess with your computer, but never your heart.

Date an entrepreneur because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most vibrant life imaginable. Share your dreams with her, let her show you better ways of doing things and let her know you love her for who she is. If you want the world and the universe beyond it, date an entrepreneur.